TOKYO – Armand Duplantis, currently the top-ranked pole vaulter and main threat to Filipino EJ Obiena’s golden quest, has firmly established himself as one of the stars of track and field and is adamant nothing will stand in his way when he takes to the pole vault runway at the Tokyo Olympics.
It is easy to forget that the Swede, who describes being at the Olympics as a "childhood dream", is still just 21, after a career-changing year in which he has re-written the record books.
TRACKER: EJ Obiena at the Tokyo Olympics
In 2020, despite a season ravaged by the Covid-19 pandemic, Duplantis set a sensational world record of 6.18m indoors before vaulting 6.15m outdoors, finally eclipsing the 1994 mark set by all-time great Sergey Bubka.
Heading to Japan, Duplantis says he feels in good shape, though he concedes a new world record would be secondary to winning.
"I don't have any complaint, I feel I'm in the position I wanted to be, the shape is coming nicely," said the vaulter known as "Mondo".
"I'm ready to go and do what I want to do."
One would have expected the 68,000-capacity Olympic stadium to have been filled to the brim for the athletics, but fans have been banned as part of Japan's fight against coronavirus.
"It's unfortunate. Of course I'd love a packed stadium, that would be more exciting, but it is what it is," said Duplantis, who divides his time between Sweden and Louisiana in the United States.
"I had a while year last year with no crowd, so I am starting to get used to it in a way. It's not going to be something completely new to me or the other guys."
All eyes on victory
Duplantis was born in the United States to American father and coach Greg — himself a former pole vaulter who cleared 5.80m — and Swedish heptathlete mother Helena. He was vaccinated against COVID-19 while training in the States.
He said he only had one objective in Tokyo — and improving his record came a distant second.
"Winning is the only goal really," he said. "In a dream world I would like to go and break the world record and do something very legendary at the Games.
"But it's my first Games, I just want to win, that's the only thing on my mind."
Aside from Obiena, Duplantis faces stiff competition from American Sam Kendricks, the defending two-time world champion and bronze medalist in Rio, and France's Renaud Lavillenie, the 2012 Olympic gold medalist who won silver four years later.
Lavillenie, Duplantis admitted, had been one of his childhood heroes.
"I was a huge fan of Renaud," he said. "Just to be in the situation that I'm now able to compete against him, learned a little bit from him. It's a really cool thing, especially from a guy like that."
Their contact, he added, went "from idol, competitor, to friend, to everything in between".
"He's a big brother, a mentor, a friend, I look at him a way very similar I look at my two older brothers for sure."